Thousands of people across B.C. attended rallies Wednesday both in support of and against the SOGI 123 curriculum being taught in public schools.
Called the 1 Million March 4 Children, those opposing gender-inclusive education wanted to organize events across Canada.
SOGI 123 stands for sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a resource package designed to help teachers and school administrators reduce discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in their curriculum.
The BC Teachers’ Federation, which represents some 50,000 teachers across the province, panned the planned protests for using parental consent as a “dog whistle for rising homophobia and transphobia.”
Speaking at the rally in Vancouver, Jordon Navratil told Global News if he had SOGI in his schools when he was young, it would have made a huge impact on his life.
“If we had felt safe when we were kids, everything would have been different,” he said.
“You hear conversations about how representation matters. We talk about it in film, we talk about it in arts, in this space representation matters. When you are a queer or trans youth and you see the existence of people like you, it makes you feel like you exist.”
“When those kids are alone they don’t always make it out alive.”
The various events also drew a heavy police presence to make sure everyone was safe.
The event in Victoria grew so large that police asked people to leave the grounds of the legislature due to escalating tensions. At one point the crowds were yelling “Transphobes go home” and “Fascists go home.”
Two people were arrested during the protest.
Paul O’Rorke said he attended the rally in Victoria Wednesday as he is upset about the SOGI curriculum.
“I personally believe the concepts being taught are adult concepts,” he said.
Scott Osselton said he wanted to attend the rally to stand “up for the kids and Canada itself.
But supporters of SOGI wanted to get their message out as well.
Winona Waldron, the first vice-president of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association, told Global News that teachers want to make sure that schools are inclusive and safe places for all students. “That’s why we’re here today,” she said, “to reaffirm our commitment to our students, to our staff members, to our fellow teachers, that schools are a safe place and we’ll stand up for you.”
Waldron said she thinks there is some confusion over what is being taught in schools when it comes to the SOGI curriculum. “What we teach is inclusivity so that every person can see themselves reflected in their school and their school material.”
Many parents said they wanted to attend the rally as a way to protect their parental rights, not because they are anti-gay or anti-trans.
Waldron said parental rights are important but they don’t overrule human rights.
“Both sexual orientation and gender identity are protected rights under the Human Rights Code,” she added.
A large crowd also turned out in Vancouver, with supporters on both sides of the issue.
Darryn Ferguson said he wanted to attend the rally in order to “protect our kids.”
He said he has a trans son and he’s not against LGBTQ2S+ but he doesn’t like it being taught in the school curriculum.
“These people have no idea what they’re doing here,” Ferguson said, referring to the counter-protesters. “They’re here for the wrong reasons.”
Stephanie Wilson said she wanted to attend the rally as she is strongly opposed to the anti-SOGI gathering.
“Essentially all (SOGI) does is teach children queer people exist, trans people exist, and bullying is wrong and we should accept all folks,” she said. “They seem to have a problem with that message.”
Connie Buna said as a mother she wanted to show solidarity with marginalized communities.
She said the SOGI opposition is “rooted in fear.
“I feel sorry for the children of those parents that choose fear over the reality that teaching our children about sexuality protects them, it protects them from sexual predators actually, it allows them to be empowered in their ability.”
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